Seeking to improve access for veterans, Common App drops military discharge question

Hoping to boost college access for the nation’s veterans, the Common Application is removing a question that asked applicants to explain their military discharge, Inside Higher Ed reports. The Common App—which more than a million students use to apply to college each year—announced the change on Veteran’s Day.

“This is about rethinking, with fresh eyes, legacy systems that too often lock out promising students from attending college—or even applying at all,” Jenny Rickard, president and chief executive officer of Common App, said in a statement.

Related: Common App drops disciplinary history question, pointing to racial disparities >

Veterans are nearly twice as likely as their civilian counterparts to abandon their applications midstream after creating a Common App account. Digging into the data, an Air Force veteran interning at the Common App found that, among veterans who skipped the question about whether they received an honorable discharge, 80 percent ultimately did not submit an application.

Even though many explanations for a military discharge, including medical conditions, would not be an indication of an applicant’s ability to succeed in college, “far too many are deterred by the perception that a general discharge will count as a strike against them,” said Clark Brigger, executive director of admissions at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a U.S. Navy veteran. “As institutions of higher education, our missions demand that we identify and break down barriers to access—and opportunity—for service members.”

Seeking to support student veterans

The Common App announcement came as a variety of higher education nonprofits and institutions are reorienting programs and resources to better serve military-connected students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Writing in Inside Higher Ed, Wick Sloane provided his annual update on veteran enrollment at selective colleges, noting that “a handful of excellent nonprofit programs have gone extra miles with colleges this year, even with COVID.”

The Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP)—which partners with academic institutions like Georgetown to provide academic boot camps for military personnel, those transitioning out of active service, and veterans—transitioned its programming to an online format. Similarly, Service to School is providing free online college coaching, connecting veterans already enrolled in postsecondary programs with members of the military who are applying to school.

Related: Warrior-Scholar Project ‘changed my life,’ says Georgetown student >

The two organizations also are partnering with colleges and universities to educate higher ed stakeholders on the Post-9/11 GI Bill® and Yellow Ribbon program.

University leaders, meanwhile, are working to create a sense of community and stability for student-veterans in a largely virtual COVID-19 environment. The University of Southern California’s Veterans Resource Center has organized twice-weekly “virtual meet-ups” for student-veterans. The University of Pittsburgh is stepping up financial assistance, recognizing that many student-veterans are contending with the stresses of adult life. “We think about who a veteran student is,” Aryanna Berringer, director of the university’s Office of Veteran Services, told Diverse Issues in Higher Education. “They’re typically about 25 years old, probably married, have children.” Berringer’s office is providing $500 grants to help with COVID-related issues or expenditures, especially as many families grapple with job and income loss.

Georgetown University’s Veterans Office serves military-connected students as they apply to, attend, and advance beyond Georgetown. To learn more about our commitment to veteran student success, visit the Veterans Office home page.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Explore more information provided by the U.S. government about education benefits offered through the VA.

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